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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Death doctor's artwork at center of probate dispute

Jack Kevorkian is best known for the legacy of assisted-suicide activism that earned him the moniker "Doctor Death." Twin Cities readers may be surprised to learn that the controversial doctor was also a painter. Ownership of several of the doctor's paintings formed the basis of a probate dispute that recently settled and brought an end to federal court litigation.

The litigation began with a county court filing by the executor of the doctor's estate seeking the return of 17 paintings in the possession of the Armenian Library and Museum. The museum responded by filing suit in federal court to assert ownership of the paintings.

The executor asserted that the doctor had only temporarily loaned the paintings to the museum. According to the executor, the doctor said before he died that he wanted the paintings to go to his niece and sole heir as part of her inheritance.

Although the doctor's paintings have been described as portraying disturbing themes, they may add significantly to the value of the estate. The executor claims to have received offers of up to $100,000 for some of the pieces.

Under the terms of the settlement agreement, 13 of the paintings will be returned to the doctor's estate. The museum will keep four paintings, which the executor says is an appropriate recognition of the need to preserve the doctor's artwork as a part of Armenian culture.

With no documentation of the doctor's intent when he gave the paintings to the museum and no indication of any specific instructions in a will or other estate documents, the court might have had a difficult time figuring out the doctor's true wishes. Both sides would have needed experienced legal counsel to stake their claims if the matter had proceeded to trial.

Source: The Watertown Tab and Press, "Deal reached on $2 million in Kevorkian artwork," Mike Martindale, Oct. 11, 2012

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